Though disappointed that the Napa Valley Register Editorial Board fell short of endorsing Measure D, which I sponsored, I couldn't agree more with the rationale that major changes in the code ought to be made through the legislative rather than the initiative process. But there is theory and there is Napa County reality. Sadly, they have been diverging further and further in the past decade.
What are people to do when faced with a looming problem of private heliport proliferation in the most desirable communities in the country when the legislation fails to recognize it and act?
Our supervisors have not only ignored this national trend but have been fully aware of it locally through the three-year-long process at the Planning Commission during the Palmaz family application for a personal use heliport. These hearings consumed just under 20 percent of the commission's hearings in a single year, and over 1,100 hours of staff time. Not the best use of the county's administrative resources.
Even worse, they have ignored the 70 to 90 neighbors of the Hagen Road community repeatedly attending these all-day hearings, anxious that an approval would destroy their quality of life and require them to disclose the presence of a heliport in their neighborhood when selling their homes. It takes an unusually serious concern for so many people to devote so much of their time fighting an issue.
This should have been enough for the county to pick up on public sentiment of private heliports spreading in our neighborhoods. If this was too much to hope for, it was inexcusable for the county not to accommodate a proposed ordinance by the law firm of Farella, Brown & Martell to address this issue through the legislative process, as the Register would have preferred.
The mere preparation of the proposed ordinance was an estimated $10,000 gift to the county. Instead of a 'thank you', it was rebuffed with an estimated 18-month waiting period and a fee of almost $2,000 before it would be considered. Mr. Farella did what any self-respecting person would do.
In stark contrast, the supervisors allocated time to review a disastrous staff recommendation to redefine a "small" winery to be larger than 53 percent of all existing wineries. And more time on how to "streamline" the hearings process by cutting public testimony from 3 to 2 minutes. They made time to approve 892,000 additional gallons of wine production, more and more winery visitors and events at one winery after another, many of them as rewards to egregious violators.
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In answer to the Register's recommendation, if the county increasingly shows contempt to citizens' requests, shuts down or merely tolerates public testimony, when it makes every effort to accommodate scofflaws, all to the benefit of a handful while ignoring issues of wide concern, what options do the people have other than initiatives or replacing those occupying the peoples' chairs?
From personal experience, initiatives take an enormous commitment by dozens of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ultimately, they are a gift to the community because they offer it a choice, a choice only because the legislative process was denied them.
Nonetheless, initiatives have legislative benefits as well. They serve as warnings to governments that clouds are gathering in its skies. It is up to the elected officials to take notice to avert the looming storms.
With a state senator as Bill Dodd, who has never once attended a hearing on his major funder Mr. Palmaz' application, obviously uninterested in gauging public sentiment on the wider issue, takes the lead in opposing Measure D, he becomes the poster child of the rapidly evolving crisis in our increasingly incestuous county government.